Sore Throat vs. Strep Throat

Sore Throat vs. Strep Throat
May 16, 2018 Melissa Bauman

Childrens Urgent Care Pediatric Urgent Care Center

Is your child complaining about a painful scratchy throat? Are they having difficulty swallowing? Not sure whether these symptoms are a result of sore throat or strep throat? Luckily, we are here to help! We asked three of Urgent Care for Kids’ pediatric trained providers to help differentiate the two.

The Break Down

What is Sore Throat?

Pharyngitis is a common complaint for children and teens. Pharyngitis (sore throat) is usually caused by viruses. Sometimes, there is a bacterial cause such as from streptococcus bacteria, which can result in a strep throat infection. There are many other causes of sore throat as well, said Susan Wilde, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner.

What Causes Sore Throat?

The most common causes of sore throat are viral and bacterial infections. There are many different viruses that cause sore throat. A cold may start out with a sore throat then progress to runny nose in cough in a day or two, said Betty Pratt, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner.

Allergies are another common cause of sore throat. Postnasal drip causes irritation to the back of throat causing pain. This can be resolved by treating the allergy with over the counter meds or nasal sprays.

These viruses usually cause throat pain for 3-5 days, with cough and congestion lasting for 7-10 days typically.

Sore Throat Symptoms Include:

  • Cough
  • Congestion
  • Runny Nose
  • Sometimes Fever


  • Gargling Salt Water 3-4 Times a Day
  • Motrin (If the cause is viral)
  • Tylenol (For pain)
  • Warm Liquids/ Cold Liquids (Preference)
  • Plenty of Water
  • Advil (For pain)

* If a person has a sore throat they may drink less liquids because drinking is painful. It is important to remain hydrated. A variety of preferred liquids should be offered to a child with a sore throat. Avoid liquids with caffeine or excessive amounts of sugar


What is Strep Throat?

Strep Throat is a bacterial infection that causes inflammation in the back of the throat. This is caused by streptococcal bacteria infection.

Most people think if they see “white stuff” in the back of the throat, it must be strep. This is not true. The exudate (skin cells that are sloughing from inflammation) is most often from a virus.

What Causes Strep Throat?

Strep throat is caused by a bacterial infection. It typically presents as sore throat and fevers, however, in younger children it can present as abdominal pain, fever and vomiting without any complaint of sore throat. Some children can get a sand paper like rash to their torso as well, said Jessa Lesie, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner.

Strep Throat Symptoms Include:

  • Sore Throat
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Stomach Ache
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal Pain
  • * Strep throat presents differently, usually there is no cough or runny nose.


Most strep throat is NOT an emergency, and a swab to test for strep is recommended so that overprescribing of antibiotics can be avoided. There can be some complications from strep bacteria such as throat abscess, ear infection, inflammation of kidneys or joints, necrotizing fasciitis, and heart damage. If any serious symptoms are present, see a doctor right away.

When To Be Seen By A Health Care Provider:

  • Fevers for more that a few days
  • Decreased fluid intake
  • Sore throat not resolving on its own in a few days

Urgent Care for Kids is the largest pediatric urgent care chain in Texas, serving families in the greater Austin, DFW, and Houston areas. Our goal is to provide every patient with the highest quality medical care and superior customer service at a time and location that is convenient to working parents. We accept all major commercial insurance plans and all Texas Medicaid and CHIP plans in order to best serve our patients and their families. To learn more about our locations, hours, and services we provide, please visit our website.


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